To Monitor or Not to Monitor
Whether or not to monitor children’s texts and online activity is a question that’s challenging for many families. When asked about the question of monitoring, Maldonado offers an example of one of her coworkers, a senior engineer at Proda, and his son.
“My coworker is always battling with his son, trying to limit his screen time,” she says. “The other night he logged into his family’s network and saw that a new IP was popping up. Long story short, his son was able to get a new device, mask his IP address, and log onto their network!” Maldonado laughs and shakes her head. “I said to my coworker, you’re secretly a little proud aren’t you? It’s cool how savvy our kids can be.”
She continues, “The moral is, even if we block a certain IP address at bedtime, our kids can get around that. Monitoring is important but you’ve got to complement it with a positive and open culture where you can say, ‘it’s cool that you did this, but why? Can we have a bigger conversation about your screen time needs and use?’”
On the question of monitoring kids’ text messages, Maldonado says it’s highly personal and individual based on what your family needs. Some families might balk at the Big Brother-esque monitoring that is now widely available to parents. And yet, the field of risk online is much larger today than during, say, a Millennial or Gen X childhood, when kids called each other on the family land line and played games on a massive desktop computer that sat immovable in the living room.
“Ultimately, if they’re living under your roof, if you’re paying for the phone, that data is yours,” Maldonado says. “Just like a CEO needs access to employees’ emails to take care of the organization. It might not be a feature you want to use but it can help you keep people safe when you need information. For example, if your kid didn’t come home last night and you need to see who they were talking to.”
“But,” she adds, “If you’re monitoring your kids texting you also need to be monitoring their apps— Snapchat, Instagram, etc.” Snapchat, Instagram and many other apps famously implemented vanishing message features, making it easy for people to share potentially inappropriate content without it being stored or monitored. While disappearing messages can enhance security for some, the feature can create greater risk for children.
“Healthy culture-building is the first line of defense here, because as we see with Snapchat, there are so many workarounds kids can find,” Maldonado emphasizes.